Thursday, April 12, 2007

Since I'm on a Christianity Today kick...

(Image from Wikipedia)

...I'll blog briefly about a recent issue's book note, partly because it touches on the ideas of Samuel P. Huntington and on one of the themes in the conference on Asia that I'll be participating in tomorrow.

The book note -- Christianity Today calls it a "Bookmark" -- concerns Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, edited by Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland, editors.

Dave Broucek begins his very brief review, "Declaration of Interdependence," with an unsourced quote attributed to Philip Jenkins (perhaps from the book under review?):
"In our lifetimes, the centuries-long North Atlantic captivity of the church is drawing to an end."
Jenkins is making an oblique allusion to the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Papacy, 1309-1377, also known as the Avignon Papacy, a time in which the French kings controlled the Catholic Church and used it for their own political purposes. (Behind this allusion lies the further allusion to the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews, approximately 597-537 BCE.)

Broucek remarks that "Christianity has become polycentric," although one of the volume's contributors, Tite Tiénou, puts things somewhat differently in his article, "Christian Theology in an Era of World Christianity":
[T]he center of gravity of world Christianity has shifted to the South. (40)
And he gives some figures to back this up by citing Andrew Walls, figures that clarify that a center of gravity is consistent with a polycentric Christianity:
In 1900, 83% of the world's Christians lived in North America and Europe. Today [in 1989], something approaching 60% live in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. (40)
That was nearly 20 years ago, and the percentage outside of Europe and North America has since grown even more.

Tiénou echoes Jenkins on the end of the "Babylonian Captivity" in stating that:
The shift of Christianity's center of gravity is good news because it means that, as a global reality, the Christian faith is increasingly at home in many cultures and will not be imprisoned by any single culture. (41)
That decentralization might raise problems of its own -- think of Islam's chaotic lack of a center -- but it also raises some questions that I'd like to pose to Samuel P. Huntington, and I'm not the only one:
[O]ne would not know that Christianity is increasingly non-Western if one reads publications such as Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (1996).

It is remarkable that in this book, published in 1996, Huntington states, "The West is now universally used to refer to what used to be called Western Christendom" (1996, 46). This statement seems to accredit the idea that Christianity is Western, especially if one accepts, as Huntington apparently does, the proposition that "religion is a central defining characteristic of civilization" (1996, 47). Western civilization, then, continues to be defined by the Christian religion. (42)
Tiénou needs to read Huntington a bit more carefully. Huntington does not mean that "Christianity is Western," for he distinguishes between Western civilization and Orthodox civilization, which is also Christian. However, I take Tiénou's point, namely, that Huntington fails to recognize the global nature of Christianity, and that poses problems for his classification of civilizations.

Huntington sees no problem in classifying all of Islam as a single civilization, regardless of where it has spread in the world. Hence, the Muslims of the southern Philippines are part of Islamic civilization and define one length of Islam's "bloody borders" -- to borrow Huntington's memorable expression.

But what about the Catholic Filipinos who confront those same Muslims of Mindanao? Are they part of Western civilization? And what of the sub-Saharan Africans, the vast majority of whom are Christian? Are they part of Western civilization? Huntington doesn't specifically include Catholic Filipinos in the West, and he specifically excludes Africans by classifying them as part of African civilization (despite Tiénou's remark, page 42-43, that Huntington does not recognize an African civilization).

Yesterday, I posed a related question to the Korean students in my course on Contemporary Issues in English. I noted the spread of Christianity in South Korea -- along with the fact of democracy and capitalism here -- and asked my students, "To what civilization does South Korea belong?"

Generally, they agreed that Korea is in a transition toward Western civilization. They acknowledged that it had long been part of Confucian civilization but that Confucianism was weakening steadily. They noted that Korea is still more collectivist and less individualistic than the West, but they expected this to change.

I then suggested to them that we think of the transition as one toward a global civilization rather than one toward Western civilization, my implicit point being that the West itself is altering under the pressure of globalization -- though global culture is being most powerfully influenced by Western ideas.

Well, I could go on and on, but I did say that I'd blog briefly, so I'll leave my thoughts at that.



At 6:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your students must really thrive on such explorative conversations. Indeed Western civilization is becoming globalized not only from without but from within as virtually every Western nation is multicultural and multireligious.

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

They certainly responded to that question, so I suspect that it's one that they've reflected on and discussed among themselves.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home